The age-old question - What do you want to do with your life? For some, that question is easily answered.
For others, things dont necessarily fall in place that seamlessly. And as 2009 Photo District News (PDN) Top 30 Emerging Photographers Flora Hanitijo, James Pomerantz, and Cole Barash affirm, thats okay. Grasping the ebb and flow of their lives, each of these three began an untraditional path through life, and found what they love to do every day.
With this latest recognition, they share their story, some advice, and what they hope the future holds for them.
James Pomerantz From culinary school to a hotel in Haiti.
Photography was hardly top of mind for James Pomerantz when he began planning his career. In fact, he arrived at it more as a process of elimination.
“I guess I knew it was for me after having tried lots of other things that never gave me the fulfillment I get from photography,” he laughs.
After studying English and creative writing in college, Pomerantz took a sharp turn and headed to culinary school. After working as a chef for a few years, he took another turn back to school to study math and philosophy at Columbia University. While there, he decided to take a few photography electives.
“I fell in love with photography on a new level,” he says. “And I said, This is what I want to do. I had taken a photography class in high school where I was taking photos of my feet or the shadows of my hands, and things like that. But at Columbia, I really started to look at photographs and understand what a photograph was capable of.
“As school was coming to a close, I had seen James Nachtweys work as a documentary war photographer, I read The Bang Bang Club and a book called Once Upon a Distant War about Vietnam War journalists who were making a difference. So I decided I was going to get on a plane and go to Iraq.”
While planning his trip to the Middle East, Pomerantz met fellow New York photographer Ben Lowy who had just returned from Iraq. In what was perhaps Pomerantz first indication that war photography was not really what he wanted to do, the two decided instead to go to Bangkok.
“The very fact that I didnt go to Iraq told me a lot about myself,” Pomerantz says. “I went to Haiti to cover the unrest there and I spent half the time hanging out at the hotel because I realized very quickly that guns and explosions just werent for me.”
That introspection is Pomerantzs advice to future photographers.
“Really be honest with yourself about who you are as a person and let that inform who youre going to be as a photographer,” he advises. “Its such a broad field, make sure youre doing what you love.”
He adds, “My other bit of advice would be dont rush it. And what I mean by that is when someone wants to be a photographer, theres a rush to be a professional photographer. I remember when I started out, going to Bangkok, taking photos, and then contacting a ton of photo editors at different magazines with mediocre photographs of things that they had probably seen countless times from other photographers. But trying to rush things may not be the greatest idea. If you have another skill set that lets you work while working on your photographs, then keep improving your skills and building your portfolio so when you meet with an editor youll have something worthwhile to show them.”
Working for years with newspapers and magazines, Pomerantz places great importance on relationships. Often times, the network that he created helped him land jobs and build his portfolio in unique ways.
“A huge earthquake happened on the Pakistan border and I happened to be in India at the time, so The New York Times contacted me. Its contacts, its luck, its perseverance. Its all those things.”
From culinary school, to his war coverage intentions, to his present work on his MFA at the School of Visual Arts in New York and his nomination to the Photo District News Top 30 Emerging Artists, Pomerantz remains a modest student of his craft.
“Im using photography to explore my world. Im using it to explore my thoughts, my hopes, and my fears.” Thus the impetus for his blog.
An avid film user, Pomerantz continues to explore his world with KODAK PROFESSIONAL PORTRA 160NC Film.
Flora Hanitijo - Extra credit to extraordinary
“I was going to be a journalist, but it didnt feel right,” Flora Hanitijo admits. “I needed an extra credit at school, so I took photography.”
This simple decision proved to be a major turning point in her life. And though she easily mastered everything from portraits to landscapes, Hanitijo considers it a bit of a fluke that she ended up pursuing a career in photography.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but I love capturing moments. I just love making images. Sincerely.”
But even as she pursued her passion after graduation she discovered some other barriers of the business. During an interview for an assistant position, she was told that she would never make it as a woman in the business.
“And that was actually coming from a very successful female photographer,” Hanitijo adds.
Nevertheless, she kept plugging along and attained a job as an assistant, where she learned the real ins and outs of the business —knowledge that comes only from on-the-job training.
”Assisting taught me a great life lesson,” she says. “No matter what, its never going to go according to plan. Life kind of happens. I learned how to stay calm, face mishaps, and problem solve.”
Eventually she came to a point where she realized it was time to head out on her own. “It was scary, but it was just time,” she recalls. So she set out with her book and started her journey into the editorial world. She found that transitioning into the next step of her career boiled down to one word: perseverance.
“Pounding doors, sending email after email after email. Having a thick skin,” she says. “Its hard because your portfolio is your baby.”
Eventually all of the emails paid off with an assignment from W magazine. After that, she was off and running.
Today, Hanitijo has branched into a wide variety of disciplines. Shooting everything from landscapes to fashion to portraits, she is never without her camera.
“I like the simple, quiet moments that people miss because they are so busy. Were so visually bombarded every day and were constantly thinking about one hundred and one things. I just want people to enjoy the simplicity, the mundane, the quietness of life.”
The same holds true for her portrait work, “I put a little bit of myself in my work, so its almost like a self-portrait when I take pictures of other people.”
Along with her unique approach and her dedication to continue evolving and learning her craft, Hanitijo is also a staunch advocate of film.
“The KODAK PROFESSIONAL PORTRA 400NC Film is just the best for skin tone. You can never really replicate that in digital. For black-and-white, KODAK PROFESSIONAL TRI-X Film and KODAK PROFESSIONAL T-MAX Film are some of my favorites. I grew up learning to shoot with it. TRI-X Film is very forgiving, and T-MAX Film has a beautiful grain.”
Like her style and her passion, her advice to newcomers is simple as well, “You have to love what you do, because even after all the production BS, unnecessary drama, and everything else, its completely worth it.”
Cole Barash Home schooled on the slopes
Unlike Hanitijo and Pomerantz, commercial photographer Cole Barash knew from a young age that he wanted to be a photographer.
Basically, I started shooting at 13 with my dads CANON AE1 Camera and just really got into it, Barash says.
In addition to photography, however, he also loved snowboarding. So he brought the two interests together.
I started shooting my snowboarding friends and somehow we all convinced our parents that it was something we really wanted to do. And to do it right, we had to move out West. So they let us move out of the house at the age of 16 and move in together, Barash explains.
After the move, his days were filled with shooting and working during the day and continuing his education at night at a home school academy.
Honing his craft for a few years, Barashs work began hitting the pages of popular snowboarding magazines and in no time, his network in the snowboarding community began to grow.
Days away from his high school graduation, he was approached by one of the premier snowboarding magazines.
I got a phone call from Forum Snowboards and they wanted me to interview to be their principal photographer.
Naturally, he accepted. I would travel around the globe with their snowboarding team shooting for ad campaigns, internal marketing, and editorials, he says. I had been doing that for about three years when I got a call from Nike. They were starting a NIKE Snowboarding sub brand and they wanted me to be highly involved.
With his career taking off, Barash made a conscious effort to stay true to the style and content he had loved growing up.
Looking at the photographs of Kevin Zacher or Trevor Graves, they would shoot all the funny moments, and travel shots, and hotel craziness, as well as the action stuff. They showed the whole trip and told stories that way. That interested me so much more than just the action shots. The action is a big part, but its really only half of the story. I want to bring the viewer into our world on the road.
As for the action shots, Barash harbors a unique focus as well I want people to stop in their tracks when they look at them. I want to deliver a view that is unique and ultimately brings the viewer right into the scene of the action he says.
In a few short years, Barash has gone from shooting action shots of his friends, to traveling the world with one of the biggest sporting goods companies in the world. But even after devoting his life to this passion, Barash is still looking to evolve and push his creative energy into new directions.
When we have a down day and Im able to set up a studio in the hotel and shoot for a day or shoot lifestyles around the city, Im much more inspired. People like Platon, or Albert Watson and Richard Avedon are such an inspiration, I want to be shooting more and more portraits.
But one thing that hasnt changed is his love for film.
“I grew up shooting KODAK PROFESSIONAL TRI-X Film, and I just love that film. The grain and the contrast are perfect for my style. The grain is what I miss in digital and the variations and tones in film are just not there in digital.” For his color work, Barash relies on KODAK PROFESSIONAL EKTACHROME Film E100VS for its color saturation and grain. “I like to bring something to the table that is more saturated, more grainy, and more gritty,” he says. “E100VS Film allows me to do that."
In the midst of his success and evolution, Barash still has some unique advice for young photographers.
Im all about learning from my mistakes in life and in photography. You have to bust ass, but its worth it. You have to be self-motivated and driven. And get as many eyes as you can on your work.
Meanwhile, Barash plans to continue his snowboarding work while further developing himself and his style as an artist.
Matching the inspiration these artists have provided to this point in their careers is the excitement of discovering what the future holds for these unique PDN Top 30 emerging artists.